A phone with a working internet connection is something we can’t imagine traveling without.
From flight tickets to hotel reservations to maps to places to see, a phone is what holds our trip together.
For years, a local sim card has been the go-to solution for most of us. And it continues to be.
On the other hand, with the advent of international plans from carriers like T-Mobile, and Google Fi, it’s getting easier to use your phone abroad without having to worry about roaming charges.
However, such plans that support high data usage are available with just a handful of carriers in a few countries.
For the rest of us, a local sim is still the best option. For years, it was landing at the airport and looking for a mobile store. Then it became ordering Sim Cards from Amazon or eBay.
For a few destinations, it was pre-ordering heavily discounted Sim cards on Klook.
And now, we are slowly moving to simless sims.
Local Sim to Local eSim
eSims or embedded sims make it much easier to get a ‘local sim’, even before you leave for the airport. You need to just install an app, browse through various sim cards for each country, pay and download an eSim.
In fact, they offer best of both the worlds. Convenience of not having to find a store and purchase a local sim and not having to pay high roaming fees.
You can download and keep multiple eSims on your phone. Very useful when your itinerary spans multiple countries. Although, only one can be active at a time.
Types of eSim plans
Here we are talking about eSim plans for tourists and not regular plans for residents. The difference being that tourist eSims are available online without any need for physical verifications or documents. Not the case with phone plans for residents in several countries.
There are generally three types of eSim plans available for tourists:
1. Local eSim
This is like buying a local sim. You get an eSim that works in just one country. This is almost always the cheapest option. You get a set data limit and in some cases, some voice minutes as well.
2. Regional eSim
Regional eSims are meant for tourists traveling to many neighboring countries. For example, you could be traveling to Spain, Portugal, and France or to Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
It is generally more convenient to buy a regional eSim in such cases.
There is always an option to buy multiple local eSims. But with regional eSims, you don’t have to worry about exhausting your data limit in each country.
3. Global eSim
If you are planning to visit a few countries across regions, you can get a global sim card which will cover your countries, and you can use your sim in any country. For example, if you are traveling to the USA, UK, France, Maldives and Mauritius, you can get a global sim which will cover all these countries, and you can use your sim in all these countries.
Best apps to buy eSims for international travel
With apps specifically targeting international travel, it’s so much easier now to compare and pick an eSim for anywhere in the world.
Here are some of the best eSim apps out there for international travel.
Airalo is one of the best apps for eSims. I am a sucker for beautifully designed apps. And Airalo wins our heart in that department.
They have reasonably priced plans and a good customer care.
Airalo has a good range of options to choose from. In most cases, it is priced similarly to local sim cards you can buy from a store. Sometimes, with offers, it turns out to be cheaper.
FlexiRoam is another great app for purchasing local eSims before you travel. They run numerous promotions, and you can often get eSims at a discounted price, if you time it right.
The prices, however, are generally on the higher side as compared to Airalo. The app is also not as easy to use as of Airalo. Having said that, it is also a great option with great availability.
On the positive side, they have many more plans to pick from. Whatever your data or duration need, you are likely to find a suitable plan on FlexiRoam.
Directly from Operators
This option requires a bit of hard work. Visiting websites of, and maybe even contacting, various mobile operators for eSim plans. It is especially suitable for long-term stays, as this option is likely to be the cheapest (same as what locals pay).
Disadvantages of eSim
eSims have 2 major disadvantages. Thankfully, both of them seem to be short-term issues.
The first major issue with eSims is that the technology is not available on too many devices. If you have an iPhone (or iPad with Cellular), Pixel or one of the premium Samsung Phones purchased in the last couple of years, your device probably supports eSims. Of course, there are several other brands with eSim enabled phones as well.
Here’s a list of devices that support eSims.
Good news is that more and more new devices are expected to support eSims in the near future.
The second issue is not of eSims, but eSim plans available online. Most eSim plans are data only. Even though many plans do support voice as well, most don’t.
You can, however, use FaceTime, Whatsapp and Telegram calls.
The good thing is that this is changing rapidly. There are already numerous voice-enabled plans available and are being added regularly.
If you buy an eSim directly from a mobile operator, this is a non-issue.
If your phone supports it, eSim is the most convenient option to get a local Sim for your international travel.
You can check out all available plans and download the sim days before you travel. Ready to go as soon as you land at your destination.